3.1237 cyberhorrors; language and values (119)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Thu, 29 Mar 90 22:15:52 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 1237. Thursday, 29 Mar 1990.

(1) Date: Wed, 28 Mar 90 12:19:42 EST (64 lines)
From: Duane Harbin <DHARBIN@YALEVM>
Subject: Cyberhorrors

(2) Date: Wed, 28 Mar 90 20:34:06 EST (33 lines)
From: Brian Whittaker <BRIANW@YORKVM2>
Subject: language and values

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 28 Mar 90 12:19:42 EST
From: Duane Harbin <DHARBIN@YALEVM>
Subject: Cyberhorrors

In response to Willard's concern about the development of hardware and
software which will select, sort, and present electronic information:

I'm afraid that information is a fragile thing. We are all painfully
aware of the dangers inherent in committing communication to paper and
other media. Orwell's _1984_ is only the best known work which
identifies the fact that control of information amounts to control of
truth. Electronic information is still more fragile. One of the
premises for Gileadean society in _The Handmaid's Tale_, is that with
the loss of paper money in favor of electronic records, it was possible
to completely remove all economic power from huge segments of society
overnight by controlling the machinery. Neither is intention necessary
for the destruction of information. Eco's _Name of the Rose_
illustrates how much can be lost through accident, misfortune, ignorance
... And in each case it is less the medium which is at fault than the
human beings who come into control of it.

The only way I know of to truly safeguard recorded communication,
information, or knowledge is to distribute copies of the record as
widely as possible. I strongly oppose the notion of centralized
databanks, or reliance on any one institution or location as the "place
of record." Witness the tremendous loss when the Alexandrian Library
was destroyed. For better or worse, printed books, because they are
broadly distributed, are a fairly secure medium because it is difficult
to destroy all of them everywhere. Electronic communications, if
properly distributed as Humanist is, are probably also relatively
secure, though I sincerely hope UTORONTO has off- site storage of
backups of the Humanist archive.

My point is in essence that it is not the media in which we record our
communications, not even the tools we develop to manipulate the media,
that represent a danger to the preservation of the information, it is we
ourselves. In principle, it does not strike me as a bad thing to develop
machines which can assist us in the sifting of information. It is
already happening, probably of absolute necessity. However, it should
not be one machine, sifting one source of information. It must be
several, designed and programmed by many individuals for their own
interests, sifting through a network of information which is widely
distributed. Only thus is it possible to provide any reasonable
safeguard against a tyranny of suppression and destruction.

This is not to say that we should not examine carefully the tools which
technology supplies, and try to forestall their abuse. However, we must
clearly recognize that it is not the technology which is inherently the
problem, it is the question of how we use the technology. Unfortunately,
past and present experience indicates that virtually anything that can be
abused will be abused somewhere, sometime, somehow, by somebody. The general
response to that is to put control of potentially dangerous technology in the
hands of a few. In the case of information and communication, I think a more
effective response is to distribute the information as widely as humanly
possible. Corporately, we are better guardians of truth than we are

Duane Harbin
Information Services Librarian
Yale University
Divinity School Library
409 Prospect Street
New Haven. CT 06511
(203) 432-5296
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------41----
Date: Wed, 28 Mar 90 20:34:06 EST
From: Brian Whittaker <BRIANW@YORKVM2>

On the subject of language and values, I would recommend in the
strongest possible terms the works of George Steiner, particularly
the essays in _ Language and Silence _ , and his long book on
translation, _ After Babel _ . In the former book, his discussion of
the alienation of moral values through bureaucratic language deals
with the progression from the Prussian civil service to the Nazi
civil service ("final solution" is the famous example), but the
North American reader can supply more recent examples ("pacification"
= mass slaughter, "benign neglect" = attempt to halt civil rights
advances... perhaps we could compile a list here on Humanist of the
recent additions.

Less impressive to me, but surrently more influential, are the writings
of Jacques Derrida, including _ Of Grammatology _ . There is an
interesting survey and analysis of Derrida's work by Christopher Norris,
called _Derrida _, in the Fontana Modern Masters Series.

One thing I do find interesting in Derrida is his critique of the
destructive influence of anthropological and socio- linguistics on
the curriculum in places where spoken language has come to be
stressed at the expense of the study of written language, for
example in second language instruction and in diminishing or even
removing formal grammar from the curriculum in both second and first
language instruction. Norris is particularly good on the relation-
ship between Derrida's theoretical work and his concerns with the
school curriculum in France.

Brian Whittaker
Atkinsons College, York University, Donsview,Ontario.